Guildford is the county town of Surrey, England and since 1974 the seat of the Borough of Guildford. The town is southwest of central London on the A3 trunk road mid-way between the capital and Portsmouth.
Guildford has Saxon roots and historians attribute its location to the existence of a gap in the North Downs where the River Wey was forded by the Harrow Way. The town's access was sufficient that by AD 978 it was home to an early English Royal Mint. On the building of the Wey Navigation and Basingstoke Canal, Guildford was connected to a network of waterways that aided its prosperity. Its cathedral and university were both established in the 20th century.
The Dark and Middle Ages
It is proven by archaeology and contemporary accounts that Guildford was established as a small town by Saxon settlers shortly after Roman authority had been removed from Britain. The settlement was likely expanded because of the existence of the Harrow Way (an ancient trackway including the ancient cities of Winchester and Canterbury which crossed the River Wey at this point, via a ford).
Alfred the Great, the first Anglo-Saxon king of unified England named the town in his will and from 978 until a change of location part-way through the reign of William the Conqueror, Guildford was the location of the Royal Mint.
Guildford Castle is of Norman design, although there are no documents about its earliest years. Its situation overlooks the pass through the hills taken by the Pilgrims' Way, and also, presumably, once overlooked the ancient ford across the Wey, thus giving a key point of military control of this hardy long distance track across the country.
Guildford appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Geldeford and Gildeford, a holding of William the Conqueror. The King officially held the 75 hagæ (houses enclosed in fences or closes) wherein lived 175 homagers (heads of household) and the town rendered £32. Stoke, a suburb within today's Guildford, appears in the Book as Stoch and was also held by William. Its domesday assets were: 1 church, 2 mills worth 5s, 16 ploughlands with two Lord's plough teams and 20 mens plough teams, of meadow, and woodland worth 40 hogs. Stoke was listed as being in the King's park, with a rendering of £15.
William the Conqueror used the Harrow Way when he sacked the countryside, including Guildford, after his victory at the Battle of Hastings. He then had the castle built in the classic Norman style, the keep of which still stands. A major purpose of Norman castle building was to overawe the conquered population and it had the considerable improvements sum of £26 spent on it in 1173 under the regency of the young Henry II. As the threat of invasion and insurrection declined the castle's status was demoted to that of a royal hunting lodge. Guildford was, at that time, at the edge of Windsor Great Park. It was visited on several occasions by King John, Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry III. In 1611 the castle was granted to Francis Carter whose grandson's initials EC with the year 1699 were carved above the entrance way. The surviving parts of the castle were restored in Victorian times and then in 2004; the rest of the grounds have become a pleasant public garden.
In 1995, a chamber was discovered in the High Street, which is considered to be the remains of the 12th century Guildford Synagogue. While this remains a matter of contention, it is likely to be the oldest remaining synagogue in Western Europe.
In the 14th century the Guildhall was constructed and still stands today. The north end was extended in 1589 and the Council Chamber was added in 1683. It was in 1683 when a projecting clock was made for the front of the building. It is the most noticeable landmark of Guildford's High Street today.
The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
In 1598, a court case referred to a sport called kreckett being played at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford (built in 1509 and became Royal by gaining the patronage of Edward VI in 1552). The Oxford English Dictionary gives this as the first recorded instance of cricket in the English language.
In 1619 George Abbot founded the Hospital of the Holy Trinity, now commonly known as Abbot's Hospital, one of the finest sets of almshouses in the country. It is sited at the top end of the High Street, opposite Holy Trinity church. The brick-built, three-storey entrance tower faces the church; a grand stone archway leads into the courtyard. On each corner of the tower there is an octagonal turret rising an extra floor, with lead ogee domes.
One of the greatest boosts to Guildford’s prosperity came in 1653 with the completion, after many wrangles, of the Wey Navigation. This made it possible for Guildford businesses to access the Thames at Weybridge by boat and predated the major canal building program in Britain by more than a century. In 1764 the navigation was extended as far as Godalming and in 1816 to the sea via the Wey and Arun Junction Canal and the Arun Navigation. The Basingstoke Canal also was built to connect with the Wey Navigation, putting Guildford in the centre of a network of waterways.
The Nineteenth Century
In May 1845, a branch of the London and South-Western railway was opened to Guildford; its initial spur of six miles from Woking. In 1846, parliamentary acts were passed for making two railways from Guildford: one leading to Godalming, and the other to Farnham and Alton. Later in the same year, a further Act was obtained for a railway from Reading, by Guildford, to Dorking and Reigate. All of these followed in the nineteenth century and remain. The Guildford Union Workhouse Casuals Ward provided accommodation for many of the casual workers on the railways.
After the 1882 death of their father, the Gates brothers, Charles Arthur and Leonard, took over the running of his shop, which held the local distribution franchise for Gilbey's wines and spirits, and also sold beer. However, in 1885, the brothers were persuaded to join the temperance movement, and hence poured their entire stock into the gutters of the High Street. Left with no livelihood, they converted their now empty shop into a dairy. Using a milk separator, they bought milk from local farmers, extracted the cream and whey, and sold the skim back to the farmers for pig feed. In 1888 three more of the Gates brothers and their sons joined the business, which led to the formal registration of the company under the name of the West Surrey Central Dairy Company, which after development of its dried milk baby formula in 1906 became Cow & Gate, now owned by a company based in the Netherlands.